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Conflict in the wind  

There’s no doubt that Mainers want more windmills.

A poll of 400 Maine voters last May found 85 percent favored
the development of wind power in Maine, according to the
Portland-based Pan Atlantic SMS Group. The poll had a margin
of error of 4.9 percentage points.

You wouldn’t know it, however, from the debate that gets
whipped up nearly every time a wind farm is proposed here.
While the projects are pitched as a step toward energy
independence and slowing global warming, opponents answer
back that the turbines, roads and transmission equipment would
do too much harm.

It’s a struggle between global benefits and local costs and
between competing environmental priorities. It’s also one that
will culminate around the state over the coming weeks.

A public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday on
the proposed Black Nubble wind farm near Sugarloaf, a plan that
has divided the state’s largest environmental groups. Maine’s
Land Use Regulation Commission will hold another hearing Oct.
2 and 3 on a proposed Kibby Mountain wind farm, also in
Franklin County. The commission is expected to issue its
decision on a third project, on Stetson Mountain in Washington
County, this fall.

Developers are exploring other projects, including putting
turbines in Aroostook County potato fields. Former Gov. Angus
King and a partner are eying a ridgeline in Roxbury and Byron in
Oxford County.

Wind energy is the fastest-growing energy sector in the United
States and the world, with capacity expanding at a rate of about
25 percent a year.

Maine has the strongest and steadiest winds of all New England
states, and is one of the top 20 states in terms of wind potential
nationwide, according to the industry. It already is home to New
England’s first large-scale modern wind farm – 28 turbines
lined up along the sloping ridge of Mars Hill in Aroostook
County.

Advocates say Maine ultimately could generate 10 percent or
more of its energy from the wind, but that won’t be easy,
judging by the opposition to specific proposals here.

A study completed this year by the National Research Council,
the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, found
conflicts like those in Maine are widespread because of a
fundamental reality of wind power. The environmental costs —
visual impacts, noise, landscape and wildlife disturbances – are
primarily felt by those near the wind farm. The benefits, however
— reduced global warming emissions and other air pollution,
less dependence on foreign oil and less mining and drilling —
are felt more on the global scale.

“Benefits and (costs) don’t necessarily affect the same people,”
said David Policansky, who directed the study. “If you talk to a
national representative of an environmental organization, it’s
quite likely that person will be in favor. Whereas, when you talk
to a local representative, it is more likely that person will be
opposed to some local project.”

It’s a dynamic that is clearly playing out in Maine.

“Essentially, the benefits go to other states, where we now have
to put up with all these wind developments on our landscape,”
said Stephen Clark of Shapleigh, an opponent of the 18-turbine
Black Nubble project near Sugarloaf. “I don’t see that Maine
people are going to get that much out of it.”

Clark leads the wind power committee of the Maine Appalachian
Trail Club, which opposes the wind farm because the 400-foot-
tall towers would spoil views from one of the most pristine
sections of the trail.

“They’ll be visible from points all the way from Bigelow to
Saddleback. That’s about 30 miles. At every outlook, you’ll have
those in your face,” Clark said.

Other opponents of Black Nubble, including Maine Audubon, are
more focused on preserving rare wildlife habitat atop Black
Nubble. The mountain’s peak is above 3,500 feet in elevation.

“There are much larger projects that will produce more power
that we are supporting,” said Jody Jones, a wildlife ecologist with
Maine Audubon. “You probably couldn’t pick a site with more
conflicts.”

CRITICS STRESS NEED TO CONSERVE

Critics say Black Nubble and other wind projects have been
oversold to a public that is hungry for global warming solutions.

Wind projects and other energy plants are typically described
according to their maximum generating capacity. Black Nubble,
for example, is proposed as a 54-megawatt wind farm. A
modern natural gas plant might be rated at about 500
megawatts or more.

While a gas or nuclear plant can operate at close to its capacity
most of the time, however, a wind farm can generate electricity
at its capacity only when the wind is blowing at precisely the
right speed, not too fast and not too slow. On average, a wind
farm can expect to operate at about 30 percent of capacity. In
the case of Black Nubble, that would be 16 megawatts.

Also, unlike a gas- or coal-burning plant, the wind can’t be
turned up when energy demand goes up. Wind farms, therefore,
cannot replace so-called base-load energy plants that need to
be ready to meet demand.

Some critics say those limitations mean wind farms are not the
answer to global warming and do not automatically trump other
environmental priorities, such as preserving mountaintops.
Simple conservation steps would prevent more fossil fuel use
than the Black Nubble wind farm and would not destroy any
resources, according to Clark.

“If you took every Maine resident and
(had them) unscrew one 100-watt bulb, it would save much
more,” he said. “Wind power is much more symbolic than it is
real in terms of solving global warming.”

BACKERS CITE DISPLACEMENT BENEFIT

Wind advocates agree that the technology won’t solve global
warming on its own, but they say it is absolutely a real part of
the solution.

“What we do know about wind power is that once we build these
projects, (the power) will always go into the electrical grid and
will always displace another form of power that does more
environmental harm,” said Peter Didisheim of the Natural
Resources Council of Maine. “Our goal is to keep the dirty old
plants operating at as low a capacity as possible.”

While windmills are big and conspicuous, people don’t always
see the much more severe environmental damage of other
energy sources, he said. Also, there are immediate costs in
addition to the looming effects of global warming, he said.

“Eleven percent of electricity in New England comes from coal,
including coal from northern Appalachia” where coal-rich
mountaintops are being blown off with explosives, he said.

“We don’t think about the communities and individuals and the
environment that are suffering because of our electricity use that
comes from coal,” he said.

Wind power can’t stop global warming, but it can help and it’s
available now, according to Didisheim.

The Natural Resources Council is a leading supporter of the
Black Nubble project and argues that its effects on the western
mountains will be far outweighed by the clean energy benefits.
As small as the Black Nubble wind farm would be, it still would
generate more power than most hydroelectric dams in Maine, he
said.

“I think there’s a false notion out there that there’s some silver
bullet just waiting to be used,” he said. “We don’t have that
single bullet. We’re going to need probably 20 different 5
percent solutions.”

Gordon Weil of Harpswell, an author and former head of Maine’s
Office of Energy Resources, said wind realistically should be seen
as a small part of the state’s future energy mix, but an important
one.

“Too many people oversell it as solving all of our problems and
too many people say, ‘If it doesn’t solve all of our problems, it’s
not worth doing.’ And neither of them is right,” he said.

“People who say we shouldn’t do it because it’s so small, I could
not disagree more with them,” Weil said. “Clearly there is a role
for wind power.”

Gov. John Baldacci is hoping Maine moves forward with wind
energy, too. In response to the resistance to specific plans,
Baldacci created a study commission to recommend policies he
hopes will encourage wind development in appropriate places.

The commission has met three times. Its report is due in
January, but it probably won’t have any influence on the three
major wind farms likely to be approved or rejected by the end of
this year.

PUBLIC HEARINGS

HERE ARE UPCOMING wind farm public hearings to be held by the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission. Both hearings will be held at the Sugarloaf Grand Summit Conference Center in Carrabassett Valley.

WEDNESDAY AND THURSDAY: Black Nubble wind farm in Redington Township, Franklin County. Public comment periods will begin at 6 p.m. The staff presentation and petitioner and intervener testimony will take place during the day, starting at 8:30 a.m.

Maine Mountain Power’s application and the notice of public hearing can be viewed at Redington project OCT. 2 AND 3: Kibby Mountain wind farm in Kibby Township and Skinner Township, Franklin County. Public testimony will be taken at 6 p.m., with presentations and petitioner and intervenor testimony during the day.

TransCanada Maine Wind Development Inc. application and other information can be found at LURC news

By JOHN RICHARDSON
Staff Writer

September 17, 2007

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: jrichardson@pressherald.com

pressherald.mainetoday.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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